Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

John Lennon is seen at a news conference on May 13, 1968, at the Americana Hotel in New York. (AP Photo)

Roger Kimball has a tour d’ force essay up at PJ Media. It is quite long, but if you wish to understand the currents flowing through our society today, I think you need to read it. A few highlights:

Even now it is difficult to gauge the extent of that transformation. Looking back over his long and distinguished career in an essay called “A Life of Learning,” the philosopher Paul Oskar Kristeller sounded a melancholy note. “We have witnessed,” he wrote, “what amounts to a cultural revolution, comparable to the one in China if not worse, and whereas the Chinese have to some extent overcome their cultural revolution, I see many signs that ours is getting worse all the time, and no indication that it will be overcome in the foreseeable future.”

In democratic societies, where free elections are guaranteed, political revolution is almost unthinkable in practical terms. Consequently, utopian efforts to transform society have been channeled into cultural and moral life. In America and Western Europe, scattered if much-publicized episodes of violence have wrought far less damage than the moral and intellectual assaults that do not destroy buildings but corrupt sensibilities and blight souls. Consequently, the success of the cultural revolution of the 1960s can be measured not in toppled governments but in shattered values. If we often forget what great changes this revolution brought in its wake, that, too, is a sign of its success: having changed ourselves, we no longer perceive the extent of our transformation.

In his reflections on the life of learning, Kristeller was concerned primarily with the degradation of intellectual standards that this cultural revolution brought about. “One sign of our situation,” he noted, “is the low level of our public and even of our academic discussion. The frequent disregard for facts or evidence, or rational discourse and arguments, and even of consistency, is appalling.” Who can disagree?

As Kristeller suggests, however, the intellectual wreckage visited upon our educational institutions and traditions of scholarship is only part of the story. There are also social, political, and moral dimensions to the cultural revolution of the Sixties — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the spiritual deformations we have witnessed are global, and affect every aspect of life. Writing in The Totalitarian Temptation, Jean-François Revel noted that “a revolution is not simply a new political orientation. It works through the depths of society. It writes the play in which political leaders will act much later.”

The movement for sexual “liberation” (not to say outright debauchery) occupies a prominent place in the etiology of this revolution, as does the mainstreaming of the drug culture and its attendant pathologies. Indeed, the two are related. Both are expressions of the narcissistic hedonism that was an important ingredient of the counterculture from its development in the 1950s. The Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse was not joking when, in Eros and Civilization — one of many inspirational tracts for the movement — he extolled the salvational properties of “primary narcissism” as an effective protest against the “repressive order of procreative sexuality.”  “The images of Orpheus and Narcissus reconcile Eros and Thanatos,” Marcuse wrote. “They recall the experience of a world that is not to be mastered and controlled but to be liberated: … the redemption of pleasure, the halt of time, the absorption of death; silence, sleep, night, paradise — the Nirvana principle not as death but as life.”


It is both ironical and dispiriting to realize that the counterculture may have won its most insidious victories not among its natural sympathizers on the Left but, on the contrary, among those putatively conservative opponents who can no longer distinguish between material affluence and the moral good. In other words, it may be that what the Sixties have wrought above all is widespread spiritual anesthesia. To a degree frightening to contemplate, we have lost that sixth sense that allows us to discriminate firmly between civilization and its discontents. That this loss goes largely unlamented and even unnoticed is a measure of how successful the long march of the cultural revolution has been.

That’s from close to the beginning and the end. If you want to understand the forces shaping society today, both here and in Western Europe (perhaps even more strongly there), you really do need to read and understand what he has written.

The Long March: Reckoning With 1968’s ‘Cultural Revolution,’ 50  Years On

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12 Responses to Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

  1. Nicholas says:

    It is an attack on the basic metaphysical position of Western civilisation: there is Truth; Truth is the same for everyone, whether they like it or not. When that goes, everything goes. That is why I am increasingly unwilling to debate mainstream people these days – that metaphysical basis is a presupposition to all rational discourse: if someone refuses to acknowledge it, then you’re not really having a rational discourse with them anymore. Heaven speaks, but who is listening?

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Agree. I suspect that is he basis of the old adage, “Truth stands on its own.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicholas says:

        Yeah, increasingly I think the best thing we can do is demonstrate excellence in whatever we do and hope that will draw people to come back to meaningful dialogue. As it stands, I don’t think we can easily reverse the brainwashing that has resulted from cultural Marxism. The number of times as a teacher I heard my students say ridiculous relativist nonsense – it made me despair.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I’m afraid you are correct. We have lost entire generations to this foolishness, and if we don’t get a handle on education, we’ll lose more. That’s what attracted me to this article, it pretty clearly shows where it came from, but that maybe a quarter of the battle, and the easy part. But we must try.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          Yeah, this is a real find. Well written, sharp. As a fan of Kantian thinking, I like to see articles written about the structure of our thoughts. The flip side of the internet is that it can be used for our purposes two: masculinity is being rescued by videos from Jordan Peterson, guys commenting about SJW rhetoric ruining video games, guys talking about wet shaving, etc. Guys are beginning to feel like they are not alone anymore, which is good. I can’t speak to the female side of the equation, but I know there are some conservative female figures with decent audience sizes. Could do with more is my intuition, though.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Quite a few, some overly strident, like Ann Coulter, but some outstanding like Candace Owens, a 28 year old black woman, calm cool, intelligent, simply outstanding, check her youtubes. Always need more. We also need more young blacks in general, although that’s not as important there.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    As my nephew would say and has, I’ve reached a “ripe” old age. Lamenting now for the troubled waters I caused living through the fun, I was sure was fun then, that some I hurt found no bridge for. Not meaning to hurt, but was the result. And too late to make amends for. 😦 (Hope this is sad face emoji as haven’t ever tried that one)

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yep, some things we just can’t fix, and that we meant no harm doesn’t really help much.:(

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Well, it’s a ripe old situation I guess. Cultural revolution…the good, the bad, and the ugly.
        Life goes on, and I care. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          And that is just about all that we can do, I suspect. Care and talk and vote. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          And if we were democrats we could vote into perpetuity. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          And often, too. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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